Tech | October 19, 2016 5:00 am

Viral Marketing Stunts That Broke the Internet (and Fooled Everybody)

Creepy clown sightings have reached a fever pitch. In an effort to distance themselves from the paranoia, McDonald’s announced its mascot, Ronald McDonald, would be making limited appearances until the hysteria dies down. With the rash of sightings so close to Halloween, it has many wondering whether the craze is a creepy marketing ploy.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a company attempted to drum up interest through a guerilla marketing campaign. Maybe you thought that cute YouTube clip of the baby goat being saved by a pig was authentic? Sorry to break it to you, but that was a marketing ploy. In fact, this happens all the time—even outside YouTube. Even Ellen Degeneres’ famous Oscar selfie was clever product placement by Samsung. To give you the tools to spot the fakes, RealClearLife has rounded up some of the best viral moments that were actually marketing stunts.


Hacking Times Square Video Screens

Those who had a little knowledge of radio transmitters were dubious of this video to begin with, but many were duped by this faux amateur video. In it, two people claim to take over video screens in New York City’s Times Square using a device they call a “video repeater” and an iPhone. Turns out, the video was a clever marketing scheme for the Bradley Cooper film Limitless. Those with hawk-like vision will notice an ad for the film playing on the last video board the man “hacks” in the clip.



Baby Goat Rescued by a Pig

The Internet’s appetite for cute animals will never be satiated. This video of a pig “saving” a baby goat, seemingly struggling to stay above water, was an elaborate hoax invented by the crew behind Comedy Central’s Nathan for You—but not before it was shared as a legitimate rescue by multiple news organizations at NBC, Fox News, and ABC. If the show sounds familiar, it was responsible for the “Dumb Starbucks” stunt, used to promote the show’s first season.



KLM Airlines’ Lost and Found Dog

The documentary style video from KLM Airlines shows a beagle named “Sherlock”—the “newest team member of the Lost and Found department”—delivering items left behind on a previous flight to their rightful owners throughout Amsterdam’s airport. To the disappointment of dog-lovers around the world, KLM’s ad agency, DDB and Tribal Worldwide Amsterdam, produced the video to highlight the fact that the Lost and Found team sometimes gets items back to passengers before they even know they’ve gone missing.



Boston Mooninite Panic

Some guerilla marketing campaigns are harmless—but this one led to a city-wide bomb scare. Such was the case in 2007, when viral marketers hired by the Cartoon Network installed LED placards resembling a character known as “Mooninite,” from the network’s show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The light displays were installed in various public places throughout Boston—underneath overpasses, at Fenway Park—to promote an upcoming film based on the television show. Boston Police misidentified the installations—which looked like Lite-Brites—as improvised explosive devices, and sparked a panic. Needless to say, Cartoon Network’s marketing department was very apologetic.



Worst Twerk Fail

Schadenfreude fodder videos like this one are a dime a dozen on YouTube, but the fiery ending was an unexpected twist that catapulted the clip to generate nine million views in less than a week. When late night talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel had the viral star on his show, he revealed that his web team had been behind the stunt. Kimmel’s team went the whole nine yards with the video, even hiring a stunt woman for the video.



Twenty Strangers Kissing

This unique experiment duped just about everyone that watched it. The black-and-white video depicts what happens when strangers from a group of 20 are asked to kiss one another for the first time. After a few awkward moments, the two people engage in a surprisingly passionate makeup session. This experiment, which might’ve actually taught some viewers about the beauty of letting your guard down, turned out to be an ad for clothing company Wren. To be fair, the company’s name is flashed briefly at the beginning of the video, but most didn’t notice when the video was first posted in 2014.



Kevin Durant Taking Out the Trash

Like slapstick accidents and cute animals, most of us get sucked into “Stars are just like us!”–type stories every now and then. So when this video of NBA phenom Kevin Durant taking out his own trash surfaced, the Internet wanted to believe it was real. (Hint: It wasn’t.) The viral hoax, engineered by Nike, was more elaborate than most, and involved creating a character that was Durant’s neighbor along with a slew of somewhat creepy voyeuristic videos of the NBA star moving in, eating breakfast, and paying for a pizza delivery.



Megawoosh Kiddie Pool Jump

Using careful video editing, this unbelievable stunt was made believable—to most who saw it, anyway. The YouTube clip shows a man, identified as Bruno Kammerl, belly-flopping down a slip-and-slide, vaulting into the air using a quarter-pipe jump, and landing in a kiddie pool several hundred feet away. The August 2009 video turned out to be a fake stunt to promote Microsoft Germany.



Walking on Water

In the same vein as the video above, this clip is a documentary style profile of the “undiscovered sport” of walking on water—i.e. “Liquid Mountaineering.” For obvious reasons, the sport doesn’t actually exist, but for a few moments, the video makes it appear plausible. Substantiated by outtakes of the athletes (or actors) failing miserably, the video ended up convincing many people. It was the product of CCCp, a Dutch ad agency, working on behalf of Hi-Tec, an outdoor clothing company.



Chuck Testa’s Taxidermy Commercial

Local commercials are often cringe-worthy affairs, but sometimes they are so awkward they go viral. Like Chuck Testa’s ad below. Although it’s an actual ad for his real taxidermy business, it’s the product of the brains behind IFC comedy series Commercial Kings. On the show, two YouTube stars that go by the name of “Rhett and Link” make bizarre ads that are actually broadcast to promote local businesses. In fact, this ad campaign was so successful that Chuck Testa became an Internet meme—a true hat-tip to the power of viral videos.